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by Mort Mather

Now is the best time to start planning for next year's garden. Not just because there is no time better than the present but because this year's successes and failures are fresh in your mind. Perhaps you will remember all of the thoughts you had while gardening this year when it comes time to draw up next year's plot, order seeds, start seedlings, fertilize, begin working the soil. If so, you have a much better memory than I.

There are several good ways I have found to keep track of garden notes. Some years I have kept a notebook throughout the growing season noting everything from the weather to insect appearances and the garden firsts. Post-it notes are handy for reminders like "plant lettuce". When I make a planting I stick the post-it on my calendar for two weeks in the future.

The method I use most often is a garden plot. During the winter I draft the plot penciling in the location of each planting, the projected planting date and the variety. As I plant in the spring and summer I ink in what I actually did. That is an excellent record. For example, the carrots are smaller than I would like them to be for winter storage. The note that I put on the plot now 'plant carrots a couple of weeks earlier' wouldn't be much good if I didn't have the actual date I planted them this year.

Then there was the cherry tomato plant that Jim Reed gave me. Since I can't count on him starting my cherry tomato seedling every year I thought I'd better record the name. It is called Matt's wild cherry and is carried by Johnny's Selected Seeds, Albion, ME. It is a very tasty tomato and we intend to grow it again. Next time we will give it more room though. It is an indeterminate that would probably cover the whole garden if the season were long enough.

I want to plant twice as many carrots next year and to be sure to thin them. Three cauliflower plants were all we wanted. We enjoyed the Pulsar melon from Fedco Seeds. Two melon plants is about right for us. Now that I have grown melons successfully two years in a row I may try two different varieties.

When you see your eggplant just setting fruit when the frost hits you know that there has to be a change. I need to start my seedlings earlier and see that they are kept warm enough to bring them to a reasonable size. I know from past experience that they will bear earlier if planted in a black plastic mulch. For the past two years I have also used a slitted row cover which will protect them from late frosts and allow me to transplant sooner. To take advantage of this I must get nice healthy seedlings going earlier.

We ate the last of our lettuce toward the end of September from a July 15 planting. Lettuce can be harvested up until late November most years which means I need to plant some in August.

I also kept track of the materials I put down as fertilizer. I spread some seaweed, hay and leaves before I had the garden tilled. I purposely spread these materials in strips running east and west so they would cross my rows running north and south. The idea being that perhaps I could see some differences in growth patterns or yield that I could attribute to the fertilizer. I can observe no differences. That is usually the case. I think it is because of the high level of humus in the garden.

But spreading dried blood over the spinach patch before planting did seem to make an important difference. Spinach needs nitrogen early in the spring before the soil microorganisms get to work. A soluble nitrogen fertilizer gave me a crop that has been eluding me ever since I stopped spreading manure in the spring.

I will remember that this was the year of the moles which caused me to use much less mulch which brought on an unusual amount of weeds to play with. But I'm still making a note because several years from now I may want to look back and see exactly what year it was that the moles created a new problem for me to solve.

Make notes on the back of an envelope. Where or how is really unimportant as long as you can find them when you are planning your next garden.

İOctober 13, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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